2008 EssayJolt Scholarship Winner
Michelle Slosberg, Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School
Passover is one of those holidays that I view with both eagerness and dread. My family piles into the car and makes the trek to Long Island, stopping only in traffic to look at the Chasidic Jews with their long coats, beards, hats, and boxes of handmade shmura matzoh walking home for the seder, the traditional ritual meal.
After a long ride in heavy traffic we arrive at our destination and are greeted by my sleep-deprived aunt, who has been cooking straight for almost a week. She bustles around the kitchen, anxiously asking if we remembered the wine. Of course, the wine. It comes out of the trunk of our car by the case, two, three, maybe four cases full of wine. I lay the table; I make the salad if I have a spare hour or two. It takes a long time to make salad for this many people. The dinner tables stretch from the kitchen to the living room. There were once more than fifty people at a single family seder.
There's panic: nobody bought gefilte fish, we're out of matzoh meal, where are the lemons? Of course, nothing is really the matter. The fish is in a jar in the back of the Passover closet, the matzoh meal is sitting on the counter and the lemons are probably already out. Throughout the rush only one thing is constant, the grumbles asking when we can just eat.
And to be honest, that's the question that concerns everyone, "When do we eat?" (There was a horrendous Passover movie by this same title released a few years ago, but I wouldn't recommend it). The answer to this question is unknown; if we're lucky we might get started by 8:30, if we aren't so lucky, maybe 9:30.
Starting the seder doesn't mean immediate dinner, though. It means a long Passover story told in a mix of unaligned English and Hebrew, two cups of wine, beating all the other guests with scallions or leeks to remind us that we were once slaves, eating celery and parsley dipped in salt water or vinegar, matzoh, then out of tune singing and a couple Talmudic and political debates. Eventually we reach shulchan orech, the festive meal. Hopefully it's before 10:15. Pouring soup and matzoh balls for this many people takes quite some time.
We eat and eat and eat, and maybe two hours later, we're ready for the conclusion of the meal: the search for the afikoman, a piece of matzoh hidden in the house. Even once it's found the seder can't end, though. There's still the grace after meals, two more cups of wine, an opening of the door for a prophet, and the eventual close of the seder with a few raucous choruses of our favorite Passover songs, if we're awake that is.